Djurhamn Sword Excavated

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Happy Djurhamn project co-directors Katarina Schoerner and August Boj.

i-9039a7a3b0b37e0c47dadd4befc6dd31-DSCN8081lores.JPGAided by many volunteers and using tools borrowed from my dad and the Stockholm County Museum, I’ve spent the day getting the Djurhamn sword out of the ground.

I found the sword on 30 August while metal detecting around the Harbour of the Sheaf Kings. Today we marked out a 2.5 by 2.0 metre trench around the sword, got rid of a lot of vegetation, dug and sieved 2.5 square metres and got the sword out. Its point was wedged between the roots of a large hazel bush, so I only got it out in one piece thanks to its excellent preservation.

It’s a straight double-edged sword, 92 cm long with a single-hand grip. Nils Drejholt of the Royal Armoury tells me that it’s an early-16th century weapon, unusually designed but similar in details to the so-called rikssvärden, “swords of the realm”, ceremonial weapons commissioned by King Gustaf I.

The date tallies well with the level above the sea considering shore displacement. The sword appears to have been dropped into the water from a nearby quayside whose remains I’ve located or from a ship moored at the quay. Indeed, judging from the topography, Djurhamn was a really good harbour only until about 1600 when the entrance channel to a natural lagoon had shrunk too much to allow the passage of ships any more. The former lagoon is now a large tract of marshy forest.

We wrapped a thick wooden board in foam-plastic sheet and strapped the sword to it before sealing the whole thing in more foam sheet and corrugated box board, Sw. wellpapp whatever that kind of composite cardboard may be called in English. Next, off to the conservators. But first, another day of sieving, cleaning-up and backfilling. Today’s sieving didn’t turn up a single find, but we have two brass buttons possibly coeval with the sword from metal detecting in the vicinity.

TV News story here.

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Photo by Katarina Schoerner.

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41 thoughts on “Djurhamn Sword Excavated

  1. I’ve spent the day getting the Djurhamn sword out of the ground.

    Are you now king? 😉

    Sorry, that just popped into my head as soon as I saw the synopsis of this find, and then refused to go away …

    More seriously, why would a presumably iron sword dropped into water and then (presumably) stuck in the mud and whatnot for years be in what looks like such good condition? I know essentially nothing about metallurgy, but would have assumed you’d just find a bunch of rust?

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  2. My guess would be that being heavily packed in mud as well as very cold temperature (while still covered by water until the harbour above it disappeared) would slow the oxidation process

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  3. Viva Martin!
    You mention sea level changes. Are y’all dealing with a case of isostatic rebound at the Dyrhalm harbor?
    As concern’s bif’s comment, some years ago I had to dig 20-25 1.5-2.5 m deep 1×1 m test pits thru the Memphis cobblestone river landing, yeah, boy what fun, and on display to the public too. The Mississippi River fluctuates several times a year over this mid-19th century pavement and keeps the area pretty wet most of the time (which is why it had to be paved), and the compact silt (yellow loess colluvium) was blue, indicating a reducing environment, and thus the iron/steel was remarkably well preserved…of course it was mostly horse and mule shoes, no muskets or swords.
    Glad you are having a little fun and notoriety.

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  4. Great find, Martin – congratulations! Can you bring it to the next blogmeet? If Prof Steve Steve joins again, maybe you could use it to dub him Knight of the Most Ancient Order of the Harbour of the Sheaf-Kings?

    Along the same line of thought as blf, but coming from the biological sciences: do you get to give the sword a name? If you find a new species of animal or plant, you do.

    On the rust thing (I am not a metallurgist either, btw): the water in the Baltic is not very salty, and the mud in which the sword lay may slow oxygen transport. Hence, if the steel was good to begin with, which may be likely since this seems to be the sword of a rich man, corrosion may not be all that rapid. What about similar underwater/in-mud finds from the Baltic – how well are they typically preserved?

    Finally, Martin: how come you were so, er, well-behaved with ABC-nytt (a local TV station in the Stockholm area)?

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  5. Thanks everybody!

    Iron often keeps quite well in constant conditions, and this is clearly pretty good steel. But what I don’t understand is how the sword survived the period when it was right at the shoreline with all the decades of wave and ice action (they may have been mild in this sheltered lagoon). Perhaps it was originally under a lot more silt which was worn away almost — but not quite — down to the level of the sword before the shoreline dropped below it. And maybe it was at a level where shore displacement was unusually rapid.

    Famous archaeological finds are usually named after the find locality, cf. the Alunda elk, the Ålleberg gold collar, the Birka crucifix, the Linköping hoard. So this will probably be known as the Djurhamn sword.

    Thinker, I’m usually in my teacher role when talking to journalists. But the Metro “Hey there” section is intended as humour from their side, so in that case I just couldn’t let them be any funnier than myself.

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  6. Very nice Martin! VERY NICE…
    (Starts to ponder how he can get his hand on that sword… oh its sooo prreccioouuss….)

    Could you give the data about it, total length, blade lenght, weight etc… Maybe even mail me some photos with close ups? Please Martin, make a military nerd happy!

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  7. The sword is bundled up now so I can’t give you any further data until after conservation. But given a total length of 92 cm, you can get other measurements from the photograph.

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  8. I can’t wait til you polish the sword, and take away the dirt, so it will look shiny and new. Or will you polish it?

    I know following this blog was worthwile! thanks martin.

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  9. Getting an iron object as rusty as that to shine would involve abrading away its entire surface. That would change the sword’s shape and obliterate a lot of information about what it looked like originally. So the conservators won’t try to polish it: they try to reveal and stabilise its original surface. It’s going to be black and shiny from wax when they’re done with it.

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  10. Wow…that looks like a busy day. I can understand that you didn’t have time for anything else..!

    And as Thinker mentioned: do you get to give it a name? Like The Ablative Blade of Utter Despair? Or something.

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  11. The sword was wrapped carefully and hidden under the pier so the ninja frogman could arm himself after scuba-swimming in from the submarine. However, plans were thwarted the day before the planned infiltration when the mini-sub was boarded and scuttled by pirates.

    As you excavate further, keep your eye out for shurikens.

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  12. Is the guard we see all the guard there is? No sign of side rings or knuckle guard? The inner extensions of the quillions are to protect an index finger over the quillions. Seems pretty early in the evolution of the swept hilt, I’m guessing more likely to date to the 1st half of the century.

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  13. Thanks, Dr. R.! Can’t wait to see it conserved, learn more details of the blade and see the pommel shape. For those of us that do not speak Swedish, what is ‘hilfsteinar’? A google search did not turn up anything useful.

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  14. so you have a sword …
    i am sure its a big thing … but i dunno why …
    and like how big a find is this … ?
    is the sword like gonna be trusted to a museum or something …
    just asking …

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  15. Subcorpus: In Sweden you get a metal detector permit only on the condition that you turn over all finds to a museum. This baby is going to be on display in one of Stockholm’s bigger ones.

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  16. Sorry, I spelled the word wrongly, it´is “Hlifsteinar” (protectionstones).
    They are small rounded things of stone or of metal(“stenknappar eller trissor”) put in the grip, where the blade is fastened to give power to the sword.

    It seems that my people (the saami) handed them to warriors.
    Now this is earlier than the find sword, but maybe there is something that reminded of that, especially if the sword is used ceremonially…(I don´t find the right word…)?

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  17. From studies of corrosion in soils it has been found that the magnitude of the corrosion rate of steel in soil can often be expexted to be of the magnitude 0.005 millimeters per year or a little higher. But variations can be expected depending on the local conditions. Salt concentration is one factor for the corrosion rate, but the most important factor is the availability and transport rate of dissolved oxygen in the water or moisture of the soil. A fair guess could therefore be an average corrosion penetration after 500 years of about 2.5 millimeters. An appreciably lower corrosion attack could suggest that the oxygen content during long periods might have been low because of oxygen consumption by decomposition of organic debris in the environment of the sword.

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  18. 300 years from now people are going to find dildos thrown by women who live on the coast. I wonder what type of reactions we will get from future archeologists.

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  19. I was in Gothenburg half a year ago. And I saw a film ar Röhsska museum about the industry of US and all the products they spit out all over the world. In one part they cutted up those huge oilships (oljetankers) in the third world. What extreme huge garbageheaps there are after the products have been abandoned. The world is full of it.

    And the filmmakers had also visited a factory were they made rubberwomen, three sizes of them, of what men like…
    There were thousands of them…what will happen with them when their “master” dies? Will they get a decent funeral or are they just thrown on the garbageheaps?

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  20. Oh man, what an amazing find. I would say you’re lucky but I don’t think luck had much to do with it – get out there and look and who knows what you might find!

    There are a lot of sword enthusiasts around these days (just look at how reproduction and replica swords are available for sale), but I can’t help but think that you’re making them a lot of them very jealous by getting your hands on an authentic original.

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  21. Thanks guys!

    Andrew: I use a vanilla C-scope CS1220XDP cranked up to maximum sensitivity, with headphones. But really, a 92 centimetre iron object at 10 centimetres’ depth: you could find that with any old trash detector.

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  22. In reply to several comments in the thread about metal preservation: it turns out that a lot of swords are found in mud in or near waterways. They’re still dredging them out of the Thames now and then.
    I’ve heard it said that they preserve well there because certain kinds of mud keep the oxygen out.
    In response to what the swords were doing there in the first place, several cultures apparently had a thing for throwing swords in water. The Norse sagas have several examples of dying owners doing so to keep the unworthy from claiming the sword. There’s also the Arthurian legends, of course, where the lady in the lake presents Excalibur to Arthur.

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  23. My people had the tradition that when a person died, his relatives had to broken his things, ruin them, otherwise he couldn´t use them in the other world. The world where the dead is alive.

    PS. I wrote about the rubberladies because I became a little angry, why there always is talk about things like women use dildos when it as well could be talk about men using whatsoever…I´m sorry!!!

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  24. No, i didn’t become angry about them, they can use what they like, I meant more that TALKING about it made me angry, why mention what WOMEN use, and not what men use?
    Of course those who use it might be very lonely.

    I can think that men having a doll, plays with it as a child plays with a teddybear, puts it at the table to eat, makes a bed for it to sleep in, take a bathe with it and so on, so thats why I was thinking about the burial of that thing…

    That about ruin things was not about the rubberladies (but could be a point).
    What I meant was that when a noaidi, for eample, died, his drum was ruined, so he could use it in the other world, and also weapons…
    Sorry again!

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  25. On the iron preservation issue I asked about at the start of this thread: First, thanks everybody for the helpful comments.

    When I asked the question I–as far as I can now recall–was probably assuming the sword was accidently dropped, not recovered, and lay in the water (or silt) for some years until tidal erosion (or similar) firmly buried it. But it seems like an alternative is it was covered with mud that, for some reason (and possibly assisted by salt), possibly slowed the normal rate of corrosion; and that it may have been deliberately dropped or even buried. Deliberate burial in what just happened to be the “right” kind of mud might be the answer to Martin’s question about its survival when it was at the shoreline–but I’d guess there’d be some signs of a deliberate hole-digging (or mound-building?) for the burial, which Martin didn’t report observing?

    There’s obviously many open questions and other possibilities, but the above (broad) hypothesis on the mud (and possible deliberate dropping or burial) seems, at least to me (very much a non-expert here!), to make some sense. I’m sure Martin will keep us informed as more is learnt from this amazing artifact and its surroundings.

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  26. That’s really cool. There is so much history that can be uncovered in Sweden. it must have been exhilarating to unearth such a find. What type of metal detector where you using?

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